My Portuguese always sounds so much better in my head than it does coming out of my mouth. I spend hours translating phrases in my head and have gone so far as to believe I could carry on long conversations with Brazilians in their native tongue and not leave them laughing when I leave them. Oh, but it’s all just an illusion because when the time comes for me to open my mouth and say something, it is invariably rife with mistakes and words that are, in fact, not words at all. In the split
second minutes before I say something, I rehearse for clarity and fluency. And when the moment arrives where I have to add sound and lip movement to create the words I’d so carefully crafted in my mind’s eye, it comes out sounding something like a cat throwing up. But with an accent.
I came to think about this on the long bus home today, as I was curled up in my seat begging for breathing space, someone’s tan stomach rolling out over her jeans and onto my shoulder. I’d just stopped into the pharmacy to pick up some medicine and asked, in a roundabout terribly constructed manner, if they had the medicine I’d taken earlier that day at school, although I didn’t know the name of it and wasn’t sure how to say “cramps.” I therefore explained, using all sorts of professional language, my predicament and ended up saying “I have pain.” The woman, who I’d specifically sought out to speak with instead of the men, understood immediately and handed me over a vial that, from now on is something like liquid gold to me. In any case, I was more conscious of her face as I spoke than of the words I was saying, which is probably another explanation for why I wasn’t so good at speaking in the moment. Her face began as normal, and then, like I’ve seen half a billion times since I’ve been here, a furrow grew on her forehead between her eyes and deepened with each new verb or prepositional phrase I incorporated into my sentence. By the end, I was reduced to using hand signals and facial expressions, which is basically what I started off here with a year and a half ago, so, go figure. I managed to get what it was I needed, and then headed home.
But it turns out there would be one more stumbling block in my way between the bus and my bed, and it was my key. I’d left it at the gate to the apartment for the house cleaner and expected to pick it up when I came home in the afternoon. If I’ve ever wanted to be curled up in my bed, it was today. However, Dennis went to Sao Paulo, and on his return, picked up the key by mistake and took it with him upstairs. He hadn’t understood what the porteiro was saying, and the porteiro didn’t know that Dennis already has his own key. The whole thing wouldn’t have been such a big deal if Dennis didn’t turn right around and leave again, forgetting my key in the apartment. Just minutes after, I came to the gate to find no key at all.
I won’t write about how I cried or moped, but I will say I called a locksmith who arrived 20 minutes later and to whom I paid R$35 to break into my apartment–an easy task, actually; the door was open in under 60 seconds, which is rather scary, don’t you think?–and then no more than five minutes later Dennis walked in, puzzled to see me there. I stood in the doorway looking at him. I’d had such grand plans to watch Sex and the City, to curl up in bed, to relax and then to welcome him home and hear about his day in the city. But in that moment, I wanted only to be alone and brooding in my thoughts of how things might have been different all day had I had some moments to myself in my apartment before his arrival. Now we’ve not really spoken, mostly because I think he’s afraid of saying anything to me that might exacerbate our already–and this next word is chosen with purpose–cramped space. I’d be afraid of me too, if I weren’t so frustrated with myself for not being able to communicate, in Portuguese, with Dennis on a cell phone, with the porteiro. With communication in general. I pride myself on good communication, I really do. But this afternoon I can’t find it in me to say any words that make sense in any situation. I wish I could. I know it’s no big deal in the long run–so what? locked out? who cares? Sometimes it feels like things are bigger than they need to be and I don’t know the words to cut them down.